ASHLAND -- By the early 19th century, Ashland County was home to a large and successful group of Mennonites.
They resided primarily five to six miles south and southeast of what became Ashland -- and also in a westerly and northwesterly direction toward the Olivesburg and Savannah areas, about six miles from Ashland.
Like many other religious groups, the Mennonites fled western Europe for religious freedom here in the United States. However, it wasn’t long before American Mennonites lost sight of their traditional practices. These included strict holy living, nonviolence, speaking only German, no social classes, separation of church and state, and wearing plain style clothing.
Old Mennonite church services were held at 9 am. They included singing a few slow hymns from the old country without accompanying music, a very long sermon about world dangers, decline in the loyalty to their principles, prayers and readings from the New Testament. These customs were observed for about three hours on Sunday mornings.
The first Mennonites arrived here around 1825 and most migrated from Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. There was an early Reformed Mennonite congregation here but no accurate historical information is available about that group.
The Brubaker Mennonite Church was founded “at an early date” by Peter Imhoff after Benjamin Brubaker Sr. donated the land. It was built in Milton Township about a half-mile northwest of Five Points and south of Paradise Hill.
This church, led by Imhoff followed the strict “old order” practices but the group eventually disbanded about 1886 due to progressivism. The abandoned building became housing for local tramps and was later used as a farm equipment storage shed after the property was sold.
Peter Beutler and John Risser were two preachers who started their Mennonite worship at the Brubaker Mennonite Church after migrating here in 1832. They later became two of the leading ordained ministers in this area but possessed very different beliefs and values.
Risser was a more progressive Mennonite and it is well-documented that he had difficulty getting along with anyone from other congregations to members of his own family.
Ten or 12 years later, a second settlement was formed in the middle of Section 7 of Vermillion Township (northwestern corner) near what was then known as the Mansfield Road. The church was named the Pleasant Ridge Mennonite Church and John Beutler (Peter’s brother) donated the land. It was later razed in 1876 and replaced with a new log church in 1882.
Pleasant Ridge was located on the south side of Twp. Rd. 1806 east of Co. Rd. 1095, one mile west of St. Rt. 511. The membership in this church also eventually declined due to progressivism. There were efforts to revive it but the younger members favored inclusion of Sunday School and social functions, not just a Sunday sermon.
By 1870, most of the older members had passed away and the building fell into disrepair. The land was eventually sold.
Then another group formed. The Salem Mennonite Church was a brick church erected in 1847 by John Risser and was the only known more progressive General Conference Mennonite group in this area.
Their meeting house was built earlier in 1834 and both buildings were located in Section 5 of Vermillion Township about a mile from the Pleasant Ridge Church. It was Risser’s intention to build a small colony there with many amenities such as a school, blacksmith shop, shoemaker, etc.
Risser, who was an on-again, off-again Mennonite minister didn’t understand or agree with local Old Order Mennonites and soon lost interest in preaching. He then permitted German Reformed and Lutheran groups served by their own pastors, to also hold services in his Mennonite Church building.
They later discussed holding sermons in English but determined they couldn’t as the property deed prevented it.
By July, 1856 the church had morphed into a well-established Union Church describing themselves as evangelical and reformed. In 1858, the women of the church created a sewing society to provide clothing for home and foreign missions.
As early as 1858, they also held Sunday School. In 1879, a widely anticipated sermon was performed in English. Due to its popularity, trustees of the three congregations agreed sermons should be performed in English in the future. They consulted with the county judge but he ruled that no English services could legally be performed on Risser’s land.
German services continued to be held at the Salem Mennonite Church until 1901 when a terrible storm brought down the west end of the building. It was beyond repair and torn down in 1902.
The inability to have services in English remained an issue in Vermillion Township; therefore, progressive members of the Salem Church, the Mennonite congregation from Pleasant Ridge, and neighbors from nearly all the area German Reformed and Lutheran Churches united to build a new church.
Another plot of land 1/2 mile north of the Salem Church was donated by William Stone. He was a local farmer and the plot was a corner from his area of farmland. Members first met on May 21, 1879, at Sheller’s School and named their church the Stone Evangelical Lutheran Church. The new church was named after Stone who also donated the materials to build it.
A building committee was appointed and on June 7, 1880, the first cornerstone was laid. Since the church would be the first English speaking church in this rural area of Ashland County, it quickly became quite popular and grew in size and activities.
It was from 1860-70 when the Mennonite Church in the United States recognized the severe split in old vs. new values which created problems like the ones that developed here in Ashland. By 1945, when John Umble researched the history of Extinct Ohio Mennonite Churches, there were no longer any Mennonite churches left here.